Learning languages is a life skill so many of us yearn for. But why do we find it so hard? We take a look at the best methods and why it is so good for you.
Hooting and grunting at each other Tarzan style is how it all started when our ancestors would make weird sounds to communicate. At long last came Sanskrit which is authenticated as the oldest language in the world and the mother of all languages, including Latin, by linguists.
Granted, psychologists are right about 70% of communication among humans being non verbal. At the same time, think of all those millions of thoughts we get across through the written and spoken word.
Here we think of Zaid Fazah the polyglot who speaks 59 languages. This man must never be at a loss for words.
Mandarin, Spanish, English and Hindi have the most speakers in the world with English being considered as the most useful since it is spoken in the largest number of countries followed by Spanish which is the official language in 20 countries.
Learning languages has many proven benefits. Research has positively shown that learning more than one language heightens problem-solving abilities, critical-thinking and listening skills.
It also helps significantly improve memory, concentration and multi-tasking capacity. Surely, knowing another language also helps appreciate not just the language but also the cultures associated with that language and in the process aids us in broadening our outlook.
This is quite meaningful considering humans are usually wary of what is not familiar and the more opportunities one receives or creates to know other cultures the more we appreciate and enjoy the diversity the world has to offer.
The Rules of Languages
Every foreign language has its own complex rules and this enables the brain to work at a higher gear to be able to soak up the new systems, including grammar
The effort we put into understanding a foreign language adds to our strengths to analyse and thus for critical thinking.
As for memory, the more we use our brains the better it gets. It’s not only the new set of rules and grammar but also the assimilation of vocabulary that give the brain an opportunity to ‘exercise’.
Research by the University of Pennsylvania helped scientists arrive at the conclusion that learning languages enhances multi-tasking abilities.
Their findings indicated that bilingual people can outperform monolinguals by eliminating irrelevant information and helps them to focus on more important aspects and that such skills equip bilinguals to better prioritise and to work on multiple projects at one time.
Another study by the University of Chicago made researchers reach the conclusion that multilingual people are better at decision making.
The scientists at this university conducted experiments that led them to conclude that when one thinks in one’s mother tongue there is an aspect of fear in the decision making process and polyglots tend to view things more objectively which helps arrive at decisions that are more based on results that would be expected.
As for seniors, research has clearly demonstrated those who speak more than one language or begin learning languages at a later age benefit by lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Not just that, learning languages has been a contributing factor in improving overall health and consequently a reduction in healthcare costs.
In the research carried out by the National Institute of Health in the US some surprising benefits sprung up, including better cognitive functioning and helping do away with depression.
While on the subject, it deserves a mention that degeneration of the brain is not normal to ageing.
In fact the brain retains most of its plasticity and has its own support system to regenerate new cells right into old age.
All in all, in addition to the many benefits from learning languages, another obvious but nonetheless important one is an increase in self-esteem, opportunities to socialise during travel to foreign countries and while on the social media platforms it provides the ease for establishing a larger social network of friends and acquaintances.
Another fact is that both for the young and old, learning of a foreign language likely creates a larger network in the brain compared with other means such as doing math and crossword puzzles according to researchers.
Jurgen and Thor
Now let’s look at the most effective methods of learning a new language.
First of all set aside your fears. At this point let me give you the example of Jurgen and Thor.
Both of them are from Germany and have been living in France since 2006. Both began learning French around the same time.
Jurgen is a difficult to embarrass, happy go lucky kind. He went ahead and started speaking the very first day onward even if it was gibberish.
Once he began working out the language in his mind he spoke more even if he mixed up his tu and vous. Thor is the kind who goes strictly by the rules. It’s anybody’s guess who began speaking fluently first.
Studies and research have repeatedly proven that learning through examples and by means of assimilation and absorption brings the best and the quickest results.
Despite this, most follow the route of teaching and learning a language from strict rules. This has been characterised as deductive learning.
Mind Over Machine
The human mind is much more than just a machine and therefore reacts adversely when rules are constantly being thrust upon the brain while learning a language.
Rules are important and grammar must be taught. However, if too much emphasis is put on the rules and less on assimilation and inducing a person to think, the value of teaching is quickly lost and many who have begun learning languages with enthusiasm end up as what are commonly known as eternal beginners.
Through inductive and assimilative learning, the subconscious and the conscious constantly work out the rules and then our mind uses the rules for different situations.
This way we remember the rules better with practice.
There will be occasions when we use grammar incorrectly and make mistakes. This is just a part of the learning process.
Many scientists and researchers have confirmed that the method of inductive learning is robust, allows an individual to process the language naturally and helps to acquire rules from actual examples.
Memorising rules is one way to put pressure on the brain and the brain rejects a significant amount of this information.
Grown-ups can acquire information related to languages more rapidly compared with children through inductive learning, assimilation and immersion while children are more intuitive and never afraid of making mistakes.
And to make it all more fun, watch films with subtitles.
Learning English and want to test yourself? Check out this article:
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